Relations between riverine export (load) of total nitrogen (N) and total phosphorus (P) from 133 large agricultural watersheds in the United States and factors affecting nutrient transport were evaluated using empirical regression models. After controlling for anthropogenic inputs and other landscape factors affecting nutrient transport-such as runoff, precipitation, slope, number of reservoirs, irrigated area, and area with subsurface tile drains-the relations between export and the area in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (N) and conservation tillage (P) were positive. Additional interaction terms indicated that the relations between export and the area in conservation tillage (N) and the CRP (P) progressed from being clearly positive when soil erodibility was low or moderate, to being close to zero when soil erodibility was higher, to possibly being slightly negative only at the 90th to 95th percentile of soil erodibility values. Possible explanations for the increase in nutrient export with increased area in management practices include greater transport of soluble nutrients from areas in conservation tillage; lagged response of stream quality to implementation of management practices because of nitrogen transport in groundwater, time for vegetative cover to mature, and/or prior accumulation of P in soils; or limitations in the management practice and stream monitoring data sets. If lags are occurring, current nutrient export from agricultural watersheds may still be reflecting the influence of agricultural land-use practices that were in place before the implementation of these management practices.
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Relating management practices and nutrient export in agricultural watersheds of the United States